By Rick Riozza
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness/ Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless/ With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run . . .
– John Keats
To the wine world, the autumn season brings sweater weather for those picking grapes in the early cold mornings, the celebration of the harvest, and of course, the spectacular displays of foliage. And it seems there is an innate feeling of melancholy in the air as the circle of life continues within us and without us; with perhaps that nice glass of wine that helps us to accept and to console our souls.
Wine guru Mark Fairchild has put it succinctly: “It’s been said that red, white, pink, yellow, or orange color is one of the most fundamental descriptors of wine. It is one of the attributes of wine that viticulturists and winemakers dedicate their constant care, attention, patience, and nurturing to, in both growing grapes and making wine.
“Even after harvest, there is much that can be done, and is done, to coax wine colors from the grapes into their full potential and expression in the wine. Aging also has its clear, and often desirable, impact on color such that the ultimate experience of the drinker taps into the haunting, brilliant, thrilling, subtle, and ancient history of the beverage.”
Before we go on, let’s make sure that everyone is aboard with “orange wine”. Last year, just before Halloween, we did an article on orange wine with the title, “Orange is the New Noir”, where we describe an orange wine, and we recommended a new bottle on the block from Maison Noir, an Oregon wine company, called “New Noir”.
In the column we wrote: “Really quick—an “orange wine” is a made by fermenting white grapes in contact with the skins, hence why they are also called skin-contact wines. Usually when making white wine, the grapes are pressed to extract the juice from the fruit, leaving the skins and seeds behind. The white juice is collected into vats and then fermented.
Orange wine is also made from white wine grapes, but instead of pressing the juice out and away from the skins and seeds, the juice is fermented with them to give them their pigment and some tannin. The fermenting juice is then left alone anywhere from a few days to a year. The resulting color, of course, is orange. Some folks prefer to call it skin-contact wine; they won’t call it orange wine—but the color is pretty much orange.
Since we taste wine with our eyes first off, all is affected: it is well known that visual appearance—and color in particular can have a strong influence on smell, which, in turn, has a defining impact on taste.
We know what to expect when we see a Sauvignon Blanc that is crystal clear but for a touch of green; or a mellow yellow Chardonnay; or a brooding purple Petite Sirah. It’s always a treat to be served a glass of wine whose color is so appealing, moving, and artistically shaded, that you can continue to view the glass and nose the aroma without tasting the wine for minutes.
So back to the colors of fall. The Burgundians say it with gusto: l’automne est la meilleure saison pour découvrir la Bourgogne! autumn is the best season to discover Burgundy. C’est vrai—it’s true, is the perfect time to get lost in the flame-coloured vineyards, savour gourmet recipes—paired with the greatest wines, and ponder lake- river-side strolls.
However, for those wishing to limit their travel—well, according to the Sonoma Valley Visitor Guide, “the best part of fall in the Sonoma Valley is the colorful landscape, painting the valley in spectacular hues of yellow, red, and orange. And it’s not just the trees that are wonderful—it’s also the vine! After the grape harvest, the vines release all of their colors. Pile on changing tree foliage and the natural beauty of seasonal produce in the farm stands, you’ll realize that fall in Sonoma Valley is pure magic. For the ultimate ride through the fall foliage, start in Sonoma and drive north, stopping along the way at the following spots, and make a day of it.”
I’m all in on that description, so allow me to remember back to some great spots to visit up there—and no doubt, it’s time for that harvest road-trip!
Bartholomew Estate lies on one of the earliest properties planted to vineyards, originally by a native man named Vivano and later, the famous Agoston Harazsthy of Buena Vista fame. Today, it is still home to some of Sonoma Valley’s most picturesque vineyards, a beautiful tasting room, an old estate and a gorgeous park with a 3-mile hiking loop that takes you up and over the property through a beautiful forest, opening to magnificent views of the valley below. It’s one of Sonoma Valley’s best-kept secrets.
Stretching 17 miles from south to north, Highway 12 sprawls along the valley floor like a zipper, melding in one unforgettable view after the next, from Sonoma to Santa Rosa. Dotted with some of the valley’s most notable vineyards from wineries like B.R. Cohn, Kunde, Kenwood Vineyards, St. Francis Winery, and Landmark Vineyards, among others, there’s enough color to create a new kind of rainbow.
As one of the first certified biodynamic vineyards in California, Benziger Family Vineyards is a slice of heaven where nature is in perfect harmony. At this time of year, their rolling vineyards pop with outstanding colors.
Jack London Historical State Park is not only the former home of the famous author of novels like Call of the Wild, White Fang, and Valley of the Moon, but it is also Jack London’s fantasy farm. It is here that he experimented with different trees and plants, agricultural methods and, of course, organic viticulture. Bon Voyage! Cheers!